In the year 2000, the average adult attention span typically focused on a task or object for 12 seconds. Now, in the year 2019, that number has shrunk to only 8.25 seconds, and it’s getting worse. Neuroscientists have even pointed out that goldfish typically have a 9 second attention span – around 0.75 seconds more patience than the current human mind.
Those numbers are pretty dire, and speak to the increasing constancy of how we consume all information: reading news in headlines, short videos, sound-bites, watching movies with dizzying quick edits or binge-sized streamable content. With a new playback feature Netflix is testing, that number might shrink to become even smaller.
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A number of tech writers and app testers noticed earlier this week that a new option on Netflix will allow users to watch content at a slower or faster pace than the filmmaker intended. While slowing down an episode of Gilmore Girls to -2.0x speed to hear all of Rory’s dialogue sounds like a pretty decent idea, it’s the faster option which has filmmakers the world over concerned about whether Netflix really cares about exhibiting its content as the creators made it.
Knocked Up director Judd Apatow took to Twitter to angrily warn Netflix, “Don’t make me have to call every director and show creator on Earth to fight you on this…don’t f**k with our timing.” Brad Bird was also concerned about Netflix playing God with its control over artistic creativity, tweeting that the feature is a “spectacularly bad idea.” Presciently, the Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol director even said it was “another cut to the already bleeding-out cinema experience.”
The new trial feature is currently only available on a small subset of Android devices, but it already has many finicky cine-philes concerned that the streaming service is encouraging the watching of films as “background noise,” encouraging an international degradation of focus and meaningful enjoyment of content. A Netflix spokesperson confirmed that, “as with any test, it may not become a permanent feature on Netflix” – but the beta has already raised similar concerns to the app’s ability to “Skip Intro,” a feature which sparked similar backlash, but is now widely in place.
Who knows? Maybe the feature will just be put in place to encourage those with goldfish attention spans to sit through the three-hour duration of The Irishman – hopefully speeding up Scorsese’s opus to 1.5x speed won’t make Joe Pesci’s already quick and high voice totally inaudible.